At just 19 years old, the aspiring country singer waited in line back in 2005 to sing Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone" and Martin McBride's "A Broken Wing" in front of judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson. With three yes votes, Kellie said goodbye to her day job and hello to her first plane ride ever, which was headed to Los Angeles.
"I was roller-skating burgers out at Sonic and trying to figure out what am I gonna do with my life," Kellie exclusively told E! News. "I got in line for Idol and it was obviously the rocket that launched my career, but it was God that was the fuel."
More than 15 years after making the Top 6 on her season of American Idol, Kellie is living what she describes as a "blessed" life in Nashville. And as she begins hosting SiriusXM's The Highway show, the 35-year-old singer is quickly reminding fans why they fell in love with her more than a decade ago.
"I'm such a simple girl honestly," she said, noting she tries to be as authentic and present as possible. "I love gardening. My friends call me the fifth unofficial Golden Girl. I'm that 104-year-old trapped in a 35-year-old body. I love puzzles. I love good conversations. I love to sit on the front porch in my rocking chair. I just like to be in good company."
Happily married to Kyle Jacobs since 2011, Kellie is thrilled to be SiriusXM's new host and have the opportunity to play new artists who have yet to be discovered.
And while she has earned the title of actress, talk-show host and singer during her career, Kellie insists it's only a small part of her life.
"I clock in and I do my job and then I come home and I'm a wife. I'm a friend. I'm a neighbor. I'm a Godmother. I care about things that truly matter," she said. "I hate the word celebrity. It dehumanizes people. I clock out of that world as quick as possible and I keep my feet on solid ground in the real world. I even have healthy boundaries with people that are in the business."
While she still loves to write music and create new songs, Kellie has remained an avid supporter of the USO where she supports military members and their families. When the coronavirus pandemic first began, Kellie became more involved with her local community. Along the way, she was reminded of some valuable life lessons she hopes to hold onto for many years to come.
"I think sometimes we can get distracted with things in the world and we just have to step back and take a breather and look around and hold our hands and lift somebody else up," she said. "You can go out in the world and you could build a life that you're proud of."
While Kellie said she's "not perfect by no means," she hopes fans will continue to remember her for her acts of service and what she did off stage to help others.
"It's not about the CMAs. It's not about the ACMs. It's not about The Highway. It's not about accolades or being the most beautiful or your likes on social media," she said. "All of that is just stuff that's here one day and could be totally gone the next. How do you use what you have right now to serve? We can all do our part."
Listen to Kellie on SiriusXM's The Highway middays from 12pm-4pm ET Mondays through Fridays via satellite (Ch. 56) and on the SXM App. And for more updates on your favorite American Idol contestants, keep scrolling.
American Idol kicks off a brand-new season Sunday, Feb. 27 at 8 p.m. on ABC.